Human and ecological invasions intertwine in ‘The Clearing’ this week

June 22, 2010 :: Related project: NCBS Residency and Plays

This week sees the culmination of 18 months of inspiration, writing, research and development, as Gautum Raja’s play ‘The Clearing’ is performed for the first time, at the Alliance Française in Bangalore.

‘The Clearing’ evolved from the month-long Theatrescience residency at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in January 2009, and is based on scientific input from Dr. Suhel Qader relating to “causes and consequences of invasions: the ecology and evolution of invasive species”, with additional information from the NGO Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE)

Lantana, said to be one of the world’s most invasive weeds, lurks in the background as a character in this play, set in the forests of South India. The behaviour of floral invasive species has parallels with that of human invaders, and ‘The Clearing’ is a play about invasions, intended or otherwise. Ramesh is a scientist studying lantana, who needs to do lengthy fieldwork in the forest. His wife, Vinita, accompanies him and finds, to her interest, an NGO that teaches forest dwellers to make furniture from lantana. Being a graphic designer, she has her own ideas about designs and marketing, which unsettles Roshni, her former schoolmate and an NGO worker. The two tribal forest dwellers, Marappa and his daughter Shanti, have big dreams, but there’s so much that’s out of their control.

A number of scenes were presented at the end of the NCBS residency, followed by further international development support for the Los Angeles-based playwright from dramaturg Jeff Teare, director Arundhati Raja of Artistes’ Repertory Theatre (ART)  and JAGRITI in Bangalore, and various scientists at NCBS. The play was subsequently commissioned for the 25-year anniversary of Mallya Aditi International School, of which the playwright is an alumnus.

As part of the ongoing research for the play, the production team and cast went for a weekend visit to MM Hills in Karnataka, home to the Soliga tribe. The visit was arranged through the NGO ATREE that works locally with the tribe, enabling the team to meet them and to see first hand their work with the lantana.

Photographs of the trip have been curated into an exhibition to run along side the performance, and ATREE will also have some of Lantana furniture on display. Each performance will be followed by a discussion session between the audience and the scientists and the cast & director.

Performances are taking place on 24 and 25 June at the Alliance Française in Bangalore, so check back soon for news and reviews.

Thanks to Arundhati Raja for her contribution to this article.

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